How do woodwind instruments work

Wind instrument

Left: Various wooden flutes, right from above: a trumpet, a euphonium and a trombone.

With a wind instrument, the musician blows air through the mouthpiece with his mouth to create the sound. The oldest and simplest wind instrument is the flute, which already existed in the Stone Age. Today there are many different wind instruments. They form a separate group among the musical instruments. There are other musical instruments in which the sound is created by a stream of air, for example the organ or the accordion. But they do not belong to the wind instruments.

The first flutes were carved out of bone. There is also the clay ocarina. Many modern wind instruments are made of plastic. However, most wind instruments these days are made of metal or wood.

Wind instruments are played in many different styles of music, such as jazz or classical music. Often many wind instruments play together to form a wind orchestra.

How is the sound created in a wind instrument?

The light reed is clamped in the mouthpiece of a clarinet.

The easiest way to do this is with the recorder: The air is led past an edge. That's the hole you see on the recorder above. The air then goes partly into the open air, partly into the flute and vibrates there. This is easy for the player, which is why the recorder is usually the first wind instrument a child learns to play. With the transverse flute or pan flute, the musician himself has to blow correctly over the hole so that the sound is created. That's a lot more difficult.

A thin wooden plate is attached to the mouthpiece of the clarinet and the saxophone, which vibrates when blowing and produces the sound. This plate is called a reed because it is made from reed. This is why the saxophone is a woodwind instrument, even if it is mostly made of metal brass. Because there is only a single plate here, this group is called the single-reed instruments.

The oboe, bassoon, bagpipe and many other instruments need two reeds. This group is therefore called double reed instruments. They also belong to the woodwind instruments.

The sound is created quite differently with brass instruments. This group includes the trumpet, trombone, all types of horns, and many others. The mouthpiece has the shape of a kettle or funnel. The musician puts his lips on it. Depending on how hard he presses his lips together, how hard he blows and how long the instrument is, a different pitch is created. You can even do this with a garden hose. The musician's lips vibrate and the air vibrates.

How do the different pitches come about?

The woodwind instruments have holes. The musician can leave them open, or he closes one after the other from above. This is done with the fingers like on the flute or with keys like on the clarinet. This makes the column of air in the instrument longer or shorter. The longer the column of air, the deeper the tone.

With brass instruments, the musician creates certain pitches on the one hand with the tension of the lips and the air pressure from his lungs. On the other hand, he can take off the slide trombone, for example, so the column of air becomes longer or shorter, the tone lower or higher. The trumpet and some other wind instruments have valves so that the tubes and thus the air column can be lengthened or shortened. So there are two ways to change the pitch here. It's not that easy.

How do you differentiate between wood and brass instruments?

There is a simple rule: if the wind instrument has holes through which the air can escape to create different pitches, then it is a woodwind instrument. If there are no such holes, then it's a brass instrument.

The name is explained differently, however. It doesn't matter what material most of the instrument is made of. It's all about the mouthpiece. This is the part where the air is vibrated and the sound is created.

The mouthpiece of a brass instrument is made of sheet metal. The sound is not created by the vibration of the mouthpiece. It is the musician's lips that vibrate and thus make the air vibrate.

Many woodwind instruments have a reed or two reeds made of wood that create the vibration. This is where the name "woodwind instrument" comes from.

With the flute, the air meets an edge. The air then flows alternately into the instrument or into the open. This change happens so quickly that we perceive the vibration, that is, we hear tones. The flute is also one of the woodwind instruments, as you can see from the holes.

  • This ocarina is molded from clay and fired.

  • With the pan flute, each pipe produces a different sound.

  • On this recorder you can see the hole above the writing, at the edge of which the air starts to vibrate.

  • Brass bands often play at folk festivals.

  • In Scotland, bagpipes are a must at any festival.


There are also other search results for “Wind Instrument” from Blinde Kuh and Ask Finn.

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